Predictably -- and right-wing radio shows are always predictable – the talk shows of our local AM stations WTMJ and WISN spent last week hammering the White House’s criticism of Fox News.
What's provoked their push-back was that President Obama’s staff members said in interviews since last Sunday that we Americans, and especially other reporters, should all just stop pretending Fox is journalism.
Dan Peiffer, an Obama spokesman, said "we simply decided to stop abiding by the fiction, which is aided and abetted by the mainstream press, that Fox is a traditional news organization.” Anita Dunn, another White House flak, stated the obvious when she said Fox News is an arm of the Republican Party.
If Fox’s defenders had an argument it was that you can’t confuse commentators in the evening such as Beck or Hannity with the serious, balanced journalism the Fox channel presents during the day. I had to laugh, recalling the teabagger protests last summer when Fox reporters were literally cheering on and pumping up the protesters. I also seem to recall that Hannity never makes those distinctions in declaring all media except Fox as inthetankforObama.
I think it is rich that the local radio is acting all shocked at such an accusation, that a news organization would carry water for a political party. Because I know what folks like Dunn would conclude if she listened to these stations around here. She would see very quickly that, while too insignificant nationally to be an arm of the GOP, WTMJ and WISN are at least pimples of the party.
The local stations, like Fox, pretend they have “news departments” apart from their talk shows. At WISN in the morning the straight news guy is Ken Herrera. True, many times Herrera will just deliver a straight news story, say the spillage of animal offal on the freeway.
But at other times you'll see him serving as the sort of Ed McMahon to talk-show-host Jay Weber. I remember Herrera, for example, gushing his enthusiasm for Sarah Palin, agreeing with an equally aroused Weber about how awesome she was going to be on the day Palin was announced as John McCain’s V.P. candidate a good year ago.
Even worse is another WISN fill-in Nick Reed, who does both straight news and fills in for other hosts. One afternoon Reed is going off forever against Doyle or Pelosi, blah, blah, blah. Then the next day he’ll be the guy reading a story at the top of the hour about state government.
When it comes to their competitor WTMJ and its supposed journalism, it's hard to know where to start. What contaminates any claim that WTMJ can make that it engages in actual news is the damage wrought by the influence at that company wielded by show-host Charlie Sykes, who is an open GOP operative and MC of GOP fund-raisers.
Like the tick on a rat, Sykes is the carrier of GOP infection afflicting WTMJ’s news. The exposé by former WTMJ news and programming guy Dan Shelley documented how Sykes would rant and throw his weight around. Here's an excerpt of Shelley's article:
Another tense moment arose when the Harley-Davidson 100th anniversary was captivating the community – and our on-air coverage – in 2003, but Charlie
wanted to talk about school choice for seemingly the 100,000th time. He literally threw a fit, off the air and on, belittling other hosts, the news department and station management for devoting resources to Harley’s 100th coverage. “The Green House” newsman Phil Cianciola countered that afternoon with a joke about Charlie riding a Harley wearing loafers. Charlie complained to management about Phil and wouldn’t speak civilly about him in my presence again.
Cianciola was fired from WTMJ recently, by the way.
Although Shelley claimed in this article there is a sort of church-state barrier at the station between news and talk, I see a lot of leakage. Routinely, the news portion runs sound bites from folks who had been “interviewed” by Sykes.
But the problem is that Sykes does not interview. His questions lovingly caress the likes of Dick Cheney, Scott Walker, or Jim Sensenbrenner. While, if the interviewee is an enemy, Sykes uses questions to bludgeon them. For example, while interviewing then County Chair Karen Ordinans, Sykes attacked with interjections such as “I mean, hello??!!”
A print reporter would not run as a quote for an article about Taco Bell the line “think outside the bun” -- or quote "you're in good hands with All-State" while writing about insurance -- as if those quotes came from an interview with company executives. So why should WTMJ news re-run supposed interview bites that in fact were situated within the 3.5-hour commercial for the GOP that Sykes orchestrates every weekday?
So, no, I’m sorry, the White House is obviously correct here about even more than the Fox News they were talking about. And so they shouldn't back down.